Thursday, October 8, 2015

game preview: Pittsburgh

Date/Time: Saturday, October 10; 12:30

TV: ACC Network, ESPN3

Record against the Panthers: 3-4

Last meeting: UVA 24, Pitt 19; 10/4/14, Charlottesville

Last week: UVA bye; Pitt 17, VT 13

Injury report: (italics - out for season)


OUT: LB Malcolm Cook, OG Sean Karl, OT Sadiq Olanrewaju, OG Ryan Doull, OT Jake Fieler, WR Andre Levrone, LB Jahvoni Simmons, OG Eric Tetlow

DOUBTFUL: CB Divante Walker




OUT: WR Tre Tipton, WR Chris Wuestner, RB James Conner, RB Rachid Ibrahim, OL Jaryd Jones-Smith, OL Alex Paulina



PROBABLE: RB Darrin Hall, FB Colton Lively

The UVA game notes point out that this is UVA's latest conference opener since 1968.  So on the plus side of that, we got to keep a zero in one of our loss columns for quite a while.  This is the third year of ACC expansion as a result of the recent conference merry-go-round, and in each of them UVA has opened with an expansion team; 2013 and 2015 with Pitt and last year with Louisville.  Most of Mike London's teams have opened the ACC season 0-1 - last year being the only exception - and it'll be tough to start a streak in that regard as Pitt has a new growly defense run by defensive wizard Pat Narduzzi.  The Panthers held VT to 100 yards last week, the second-worst performance of the entire Frank Beamer era.

Last year, after beating Pitt, UVA was 4-2, 2-0.  The game column was about the fact that fanhood is perpetually about the good feelings that come from potential, and that team, at the time, still had a lot of potential.  They won, of course, one more game the rest of the year.  This team could conceivably - not likely, but conceivably - start 2-0 again.  If they're going to pile up wins, these next two games are their best chance.

-- UVA run offense vs. Pitt run defense

Top backs:
Taquan Mizzell: 46 carries, 157 yards, 3.4 ypc, 0 TDs
Albert Reid: 27 carries, 78 yards, 2.9 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
93.75 yards/game, 2.98 yards/attempt
124th of 128 (national), 14th of 14 (ACC)

Pitt defense:
71.25 yards/game, 2.46 yards/attempt
8th of 128 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)

That looks like a really nasty matchup.  Oh, don't get me wrong - it is, because UVA's "power run game" is like repeatedly throwing yourself at locked doors up and down the neighborhood.  You might break through one or two of them, but mostly you'll just bash yourself around and people who watch you think you should be locked in a nuthouse for trying.

Point is, Pitt's stats look really, really good, but the secret to them is that most of that success is the result of putting nuclear pressure on opposing quarterbacks.  No, that's not good either, but if you take out all the QB rushing stats from Pitt's first four games, you get about 4.25 yards a carry.  Weirdly, the quality of competition has gone up from game to game (except that Iowa would almost definitely beat VT) but the run defense has gotten stingier and stingier.  Youngstown State's Jody Webb gashed the Panthers for 127 yards on 17 carries - that's 7.5 yards each time.

Fast forward to the VT game, where Pitt gave up a total of nine yards on the ground.  Tech barely tried to run the ball.  Brenden Motley had more carries than all of Tech's backs combined, some of which he even intended to do when he broke the huddle.  Motley had a carry of 22 yards and netted -14, so... damn.

With five linemen out for this game, three of them for the season, the cavalry isn't coming.  Mike London announced that Jay Whitmire would start, which is all you get for a ray of hope.  The season trend so far suggests that Pitt's defenders are getting more comfortable with what Narduzzi is asking of them.  Linebackers Nicholas Grigsby and Matt Galambos are racking up tackles, and Pitt has a weapon in 335-pound nose tackle Tyrique Jarrett.  Between Jarrett and Galambos the middle will be closed to UVA all day long.  UVA has to hope to break a few on the edge, or not at all.

-- UVA pass offense vs. Pitt pass defense

Matt Johns: 76/121, 62.8%; 989 yards, 8 TDs, 6 INTs; 8.17 ypa, 143.4 rating

Top receivers:
Canaan Severin: 23 rec., 298 yards, 1 TD
Taquan Mizzell: 22 rec., 292 yards, 3 TDs
Evan Butts: 6 rec., 63 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
255.8 yards/game, 7.9 yards/attempt
36th of 128 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)

Pitt defense:
172.5 yards/game, 5.7 yards/attempt
21st of 128 (national), 5th of 14 (ACC)

Matt Johns had kind of a crap day against Boise State, but he's still among the ACC's stat leaders.  And even that lousy game gave him a single-game passer rating higher than Greyson Lambert's full season rating last year and David Watford's in 2013.  That connection with Canaan Severin is turning out really well.

But the laundry guys had better get the grass-stain bleach out.  Pitt has averaged more than four sacks a game, including seven against VT, and quarterbacks have had it miserable against them even when not getting dragged down with the ball in their hand.  Only Iowa's C.J. Beathard did not go backwards on the ground, and only Beathard completed more than half his passes.  Motley got picked off three times.

VT's O-line is horrible, and UVA is at least acceptable in pass protection.  Seven sacks allowed in four games - not bad.  Not wonderful, but it at least puts you in the top half of the country.  Narduzzi is expert at bringing pressure, though, so this is a big test to see if the line can at least hold their own long enough to let Johns make some plays.  As with every single game this year, it's UVA's only chance at victory.

-- Pitt run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Qadree Ollison: 60 carries, 427 yards, 7.1 ypc, 3 TDs
Darrin Hall: 29 carries, 90 yards, 3.1 ypc, 1 TD

Pitt offense:
168.25 yards/game, 4.15 yards/attempt
78th of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
160.0 yards/game, 4.64 yards/attempt
94th of 128 (national), 11th of 14 (ACC)

I, you, and everybody thought that when James Conner went down for the season, Pitt lost most of what made them any good.  Qadree Ollison says otherwise with his 427 yards through the first four games of the season.

True, most of them came against Youngstown State.  And outside of him and Conner's YSU output, Pitt's run offense hasn't been much.  Darrin Hall has piled up his 90 yards in completely boring fashion, no more than nine at a time.  Nathan Peterman is even less of a running QB than the usurped Chad Voytik, which is saying a lot.  Pitt's running game is 100% bread and butter.

Still, it works - because like Conner, Ollison is a massive load to take down.  Weighing in at 230 pounds, he gives linebackers a very hard time because he's as big as they are.  He's been a workhorse, save for the Iowa game when he had only four carries - and that's probably as big a reason as any why they lost because he was still more effective than Hall.

Pitt isn't real tricky, which works in UVA's favor as one of the problems so far this year has been communication breakdowns.  That's been more of a pass-defense issue, but UVA's chances improve when they can just try and win some one-on-one battles.  Ollison will be trying to plunge straight ahead, so this is a really good benchmark kind of game for UVA.  If they can stop the Pitt attack, great - they can stop something.  If not, and if Ollison is allowed to gain momentum before crashing into the second level, it'll be hard to see what the Hoos can stop if the opponent brings any kind of O-line.

-- Pitt pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Nathan Peterman: 43/66, 65.2%; 538 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs; 8.15 ypa, 144.5 rating

Top receivers:
Tyler Boyd: 26 rec., 274 yards, 1 TD
J.P. Holtz: 7 rec., 102 yards, 2 TDs
Darrin Hall: 5 rec., 30 yards, 0 TDs

Pitt offense:
162.5 yards/game, 7.3 yards/game
T-58th of 128 (national), T-8th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
285.3 yards/game, 8.0 yards/game
108th of 128 (national), 14th of 14 (ACC)

Pittsburgh started the season with a bit of a quarterback competition between incumbent Chad Voytik and Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman.  The last two games have made it abundantly clear: Peterman it is.  Voytik has been dumping it off too much and his numbers don't look horrendous, but the team doesn't move down the field.

Tyler Boyd has dominated the receiving stats for Pitt, as he's done the last two seasons.  Still one of the ACC's best.  Boyd isn't a huge big-play threat and hasn't scored yet this year, but he's open all the time and easily one of the toughest covers in the league.  Nobody else has double-digit receptions for Pitt, and the only one even close is tight end J.P. Holtz, a solid blocker with a bit of a receiving streak.  He's got seven catches, Darrin Hall has five, a few guys have four.  As with UVA's Severin, Boyd is the guy.

Peterman isn't very mobile, and UVA should be able to get to him a few times, but really they'll need to do more than they have been.  Coverage breakdowns (which have been frequent) will be deadly if they involve Boyd, because Peterman will always be looking in that direction.  This secondary is too talented to give UVA the worst pass defense in the league, and they've got to figure out their problems fast.

-- Favorability ratings

Run offense: 2.5
Pass offense: 4.5
Run defense: 3.5
Pass defense: 3

Average: 3.38

-- Outlook

On the one hand, the natural thing to ask here is: if the coaching staff is so lousy, what good is an extra week of practice?  The answer is that UVA is 4-2 after bye weeks in the London era (there were two last year.)  Pitt is not a bad opponent to start with, too.  The coaches are talking about simplifying things up and getting less scheme-y and more react-y.  That's a little annoying considering the defense is loaded with veterans who should've had plenty of time to learn the schemes, but Pitt brings kind of a Big Ten approach in stark contrast to Boise State.  That could help the defense get its footing back.

Another plus: likely low-scoring game combined with a UVA quarterback that can strike big at times.  It's the most natural thing in the world to be down on the Hoos' chances because of the last two games, because those games sucked donkey dong.  Rationally speaking, though, UVA has a shot in this one.

Rationally speaking, though, Pitt is also the better team, playing at home, and a Pat Narduzzi defense against a Steve Fairchild offense is what we're staring at here.

Final score: Pitt 20, UVA 10

-- Rest of the ACC

Byes: Louisville, North Carolina

NC State @ Virginia Tech - Fri. 8:00 - The Pack started 4-0 with four games against Fluffycakes the Kittycat and need to prove they can beat a legit team.  Problem is, that actual test might have to wait a week.

Duke @ Army - 12:00 - Good news for Army: their four losses are by a combined 16 points.  Bad news: one of them was to Fordham.

Wake Forest @ Boston College - 3:00 - The 8-point loss to FSU might've been Wake's high-water mark this season.

Georgia Tech @ Clemson - 3:30 - Once hailed as an outside playoff contender, GT is still very talented but at serious risk of not going bowling this season.

Syracuse @ South Florida - 3:30 - On the other hand, Syracuse could very well get there, which would be very weird.

Miami @ Florida State - 8:00 - Miami hasn't won this game since 2009, which is one of Al Golden's greatest sins, but FSU has been unconvincing in victory these past couple weeks.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

2014-2015 Cavalier of the Year: Morgan Brian

I have been trying and trying to put together the usual ugly photoshop of the FOV COY winner, and I've got a perfect record of failure so far.  That explains some of the delay in honoring the winner.  There just isn't a just-right picture out there like usual.  This is probably because women's soccer gets about 1/1000th the coverage of the sports that usually produce the winner.

Pity, because Morgan Brian is probably - not, not probably, definitely - the top UVA athlete of his or her sport of the illustrious FOV era.  Brian becomes the second Hoo after Danny Hultzen to be a two-time winner, and she came within three votes of winning last year as well.  It can be tough for a non-revenue athlete to overcome a revenue one - or more specifically, a baseball or men's basketball player, as one of them has won the award in four of the previous six years of this thing (including the year Brian shared it with Mike Scott.)  This year was no different; Brian had to overcome a surge of support for Josh Sborz, what with leftover warm happy feelings from baseball awesomeness.  This was no small feat because national championship.

But then, World Cup.  That sat on top of the pile of trophies that Brian hauls around in a dump truck.  She didn't just soak up the atmosphere from the bench, either, she was in for 353 of 630-ish possible minutes.  That's the kind of talent UVA had on its side for three seasons.  It's only fitting that UVA's best athlete in a very long time caps off UVA's best season ever.  Both Morgan Brian and the 2014-15 athletic season will be very, very tough to top.

For posterity, the final results and number of votes:

Morgan Brian - 57
Josh Sborz - 40
Ryan Shane - 13
Malcolm Brogdon - 2
Courtney Swan, Tara Vittese - 1
Eric Bird, Quin Blanding, Denny McCarthy, Leah Smith, Nick Sulzer, Jordan Young - 0

Monday, September 28, 2015

always look on the bright side of life

Oh come on guys.  That wasn't so bad.  You act like nothing good comes out of a game like that.  Well I got news for you.  Lots of positives to take away from that shellacking mildly disappointing outcome.

-- Chrome helmets!  Siiiiick.  Players think that kind of thing is totally sweet.  I know because I hear it all the time from fans who think that kind of thing is totally sweet.  (UVA's only actual good performance this year has come in the classy and traditional regular blue helmets, blue jersey, and white pants.  Just sayin'.)

-- Chrome helmets bonus!  You couldn't see the V-sabre logo on them, which means slightly less association with that disaster mildly disappointing outcome.

-- Olamide Zacchaeus blew away the UVA record for kick return yardage in one game.  That's what we call taking advantage of your plentiful opportunities!  Plus he didn't let loose any embarrassing quotes afterwards, distinguishing him from the guy whose record he broke.**

-- Consistency, and lots of it.  Boise's line score was 17-12-17-10, the symmetrical halves marred only by Matt Johns's intentional-grounding safety.

-- I mean c'mon, it wasn't that bad, it wasn't even the worst embarrassment mildly disappointing outcome, margin-wise, of the London era.  It wasn't even the second-worst.

-- Boise State's not in our conference, so we still control our own destiny in the ACC.  Unlike, oh, say, Georgia Tech.

**Marquis Weeks and his hilariously infamous "just like running from the cops" blurt.

So now that I'm fresh out of smoke to blow up your ass, I was thinking.  What did I like least about that....thing?  Was it the usual run-game incompetence?  Was it Matt Johns's Verica-esque decision to start the game?  It sure sets an awful tone when your offense's first act is to try and get its own quarterback killed and for him to respond by panicking.

No, I think it was the players' behavior, themselves.  T.J. Thorpe doing a little dance after scoring his touchdown....ok, the game is not at all out of reach and you've just done something to halt the nasty momentum you've built up.  Fine.  I'm thinking more the second half.  I'm thinking Tim Harris, down 20-some points, emphatically signaling incomplete pass at the Boise bench, having had very little to do with said incomplete pass but it happened near him so I guess that's all the excuse you need to strut.  I'm thinking Zach Bradshaw, twice in a row, flirting with a roughing-the-passer call that he probably deserved.  I'm thinking Keeon Johnson getting a personal foul penalty on a kick return - and Mike London's first instinct being to whine at the refs instead of chew out Johnson.  Who, by the way, was sent right out on offense.

This team is in theory saying all the right things; we know we're better than we showed, we can still reach all our goals for the year, we just have to move on and get it right, etc. etc.  The unfortunate thing is that when you combine it with all the peacocking they're doing out there, they give off the undeniable impression that they're the most overconfident crappy team in history.

I suspect they're in play-for-each-other mode at this point.  Usually that comes around November when bowl eligibility is no longer a thing.  But this wasn't the first time Mike London has been miked up for a pre-game speech.  They never fell quite so flat in the past, though.  Past speeches, you've also seen the team responding enthusiastically.  Friday?  They stood still as stone, letting London motivate the camera while they impassively absorbed his "who do you play for?" speech.

It's an un-encouraging sign for the London tenure.  One of hundreds, yes.  One I may be wildly misinterpreting, yes.  I don't think I'm missing the significance, though.  56-14 means the team was not motivated.  A sack-averting interception on the first play from scrimmage means not motivated.  Armchair psychology though this may be, it seems plain that London has lost one of his major remaining selling points.  The last one that remained to affect any results in-season, actually.

A wildly undisciplined and unmotivated football team, cocky for no reason, uncoached in fundamentals and unable to execute most plays, even on the rare occasion those plays are well-called and well-timed, coached by a staff that reportedly** doesn't even get along with each other too well - mortgage the house and bet that there are more mildly disappointing outcomes on the horizon.

All that's left to look forward to is the cleaning house, and the truest sign of the toxic fecklessness of the architects of this mess is that nobody's even sure that'll happen.

**very much only message board talk, but the kind that you at least cock an interested ear to.

Friday, September 25, 2015

game preview: Boise State

Date/Time: Friday, September 25; 8:00


Record against the Broncos: 0-0

Last meeting: N/A

Last week: UVA 35, W&M 29; BSU 52, Id. St. 0

Line: Boise State by 3

The last two weeks might have been surreal for any team but Mike London's UVA.  Well-played, close losses have become a staple of the UVA diet these past six years.  Badly-played wins are not quite as common (if only because wins are not quite as common) but the hallmarks were all there.  The win did nothing to quash any discontentment among the fanbase, and the reminders that "a win's a win" were feeble, few, and far between.

There's a chance this weekend to kindle a tiny flicker of optimism.  Boise State is the least formidable of UVA's murderer's row of a nonconference schedule, outside of William & Mary (yeah, I know. shut up.)  The Broncos are still a legitimately good team, the kind for whom bowl speculation centers on which, not whether.  But UVA has a chance to stay squarely in bowl contention themselves with a win.  Even in September, December is at stake.

-- UVA run offense vs. BSU run defense

Top backs:
Taquan Mizzell: 39 carries, 155 yards, 4.0 ypc, 0 TDs
Albert Reid: 24 carries, 67 yards, 2.8 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
111.67 yards/game, 3.60 yards/attempt
108th of 128 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

BSU defense:
45.67 yards/game, 1.65 yards/attempt
3rd of 128 (national), 1st of 12 (MWC)

The matchup in this area is so comically out-of-whack that, paradoxically, it could be a good sign for UVA. It was one thing not to have much of a run game against UCLA and Notre Dame, but the Hoos could barely move the ball against William & Mary.  Very likely indicator that the run game is going to stink no matter the opponent.  Run defense also happens to be what's been winning Boise State their ballgames, so UVA can nullify BSU's main advantage just by barely even bothering.

Sean Karl has replaced Jack McDonald in the starting lineup at guard; a shuffle this soon in the season is a solid symptom of trouble.  Karl opened fall camp as a third-string guard, and injuries and not-so-great performances have given him an opening.  I'm not wild about this development; Karl was the direct culprit on both punt blocks UVA allowed late in last season.  I guess that's more of a pass-blocking thing, but Karl flat-out whiffed his assignment twice in crucial situations.  Improvement over the offseason is to be expected, but still it's not a good sign about the competition.

Funny thing about Boise is they don't have an overwhelmingly large or dominant D-line.  You could almost - almost - call it undersized.  What they do have is a very, very active defense overall.  Already 15 players have been credited with a TFL this year.  As with every stat Boise-related, some of it is skewed by their Idaho State blowout, but still.  There are enough playmakers all around the defense that none of them stand especially out on the stat sheet, at least not yet.  Didn't stop the Broncos from holding Washington's non-QB ballcarriers to 26 yards on 18 carries.  With a running game, UW probably would've won that one.  Washington has since figured out how to run the ball.  UVA has not.  This is likely to be flat-out ugly.

-- UVA pass offense vs. BSU pass defense

Matt Johns: 64/96, 66.7%; 790 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs; 8.23 ypa; 150.2 rating

Top receivers:
Canaan Severin: 19 rec., 264 yards, 1 TD
Taquan Mizzell: 17 rec., 233 yards, 2 TDs
Evan Butts: 5 rec., 55 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
263.3 yards/game, 8.2 yards/attempt
41st of 128 (national); 5th of 14 (ACC)

BSU defense:
240.3 yards/game, 5.9 yards/attempt
36th of 128 (national), 4th of 12 (MWC)

That all means that if UVA is to have a prayer, they have to unleash Matt Johns's arm.  So far he's been excellent.  Six touchdowns against three picks, except really, one pick, since two of them were Hail Mary heaves.  And his ability to find Canaan Severin is as advertised; Severin has 19 catches (and is on pace for a 1,000-yard season); no other wide receiver has more than three.

If UVA wins this game, chances are Johns throws for at least 350 yards.  It's very doable.  Boise gave up some big plays of 84 and 70 yards in their loss to BYU, and BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum ended up with over 300 yards on just 17 completions.  The Broncos also sacked Mangum four times and picked him off twice, but it didn't make a huge difference in the end.

And I'd go so far as to say that's not likely to be repeated here.  Despite all its struggles in the run game, UVA's O-line can pass-block, and do it well.  Johns had one totally boneheaded throw for his one legit INT, but he's otherwise taken excellent care of the ball all season.  The contest to watch is Boise's cornerback Donte Deayon on Severin.  If Severin consistently wins that matchup, Johns can make things happen.  I'm still holding out hope that Steve Fairchild won't still be trying to ram the ball up the gut on 2nd and 9 late in the third quarter, and that Johns will be given much more free rein to get downfield.  If that happens, VAU has a fighting chance.

-- BSU run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Jeremy McNichols: 54 carries, 204 yards, 3.8 ypc, 7 TDs
Kelsey Young: 21 carries, 86 yards, 4.1 ypc, 2 TDs

BSU offense:
197.67 yards/game; 4.18 yards/attempt
90th of 128 (national); 8th of 12 (MWC)

UVA defense:
183.33 yards/game, 5.14 yards/attempt
112th of 128 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

What's scary is that this portion of the game was almost always an advantage for UVA last year.  Just a given.  Now the Hoos look awful.  Over five yards a carry is a miserable number, and tackling problems and an inability to shed any blocks cast a huge shadow during the William & Mary game.  Notre Dame completely chewed up the Hoo defense, and UCLA didn't have any problems either.

The good news is that Boise's running game hasn't been much to look at.  They ground out a whole bunch of yards on Idaho State, obviously.  Against real teams, they've been, at best, not horrible.  Jeremy McNichols is a bowling-ball back, slow but powerful and highly useful in short-yardage situations.  Kelsey Young is the main change of pace, a more normal-sized back with more speed, and then the Broncos have Devan Demas, on the other end of the size-and-speed spectrum from McNichols.  Demas is the guy you worry about breaking a big one, but they only give it to him a handful of times.

Boise's unimpressiveness doesn't change the fact that UVA has got to play better against the run, or most if not all opponents will take full advantage.  Boise isn't scary, but they're good enough to break down the UVA defense anyway if it plays like it has so far.  UVA's not getting much from the D-line, because David Dean keeps getting double-teamed and the other DTs have been invisible.  Micah Kiser is racking up an impressive number of tackles, but he's still not quite fully instinctual in his play diagnoses and occasionally that extra split second costs another first down.  Still a lot of work to do.

-- BSU pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Ryan Finley: 46/70, 65.7%; 485 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs; 6.93 ypa; 117.2 rating

Top receivers:
Shane Williams-Rhodes: 18 rec., 173 yards, 0 TDs
Thomas Sperbeck: 12 rec., 140 yards, 0 TDs
Jeremy McNichols: 8 rec., 73 yards, 1 TD

BSU offense:
234.3 yards/game, 7.6 yards/attempt
59th of 128 (national); 2nd of 12 (MWC)

UVA defense:
261.3 yards/game, 7.5 yards/attempt
94th of 128 (national); 13th of 14 (ACC)

Pass defense: also kinda crummy.  UVA has yet to register an interception, and every sack is either Kiser coming on a blitz or Dean shedding a block.  The pass rush hasn't been consistent, and there have been missed coverage assignments.  I think they're still running to catch Andrew Caskin.

Until his ankle injury, Ryan Finley was a first-year starter for Boise, and it shows so far.  His longest pass is 43 yards, and he's been picked off four times already, including three against BYU.  There is a veteran receiving corps to throw at; Shane Williams-Rhodes and Thomas Sperbeck are both excellent at what they do.  Williams-Rhodes is tiny but a really tough cover; Sperbeck is your basic Frustrating White Guy who doesn't look like a star receiver but is guaranteed to catch an 11-yard pass on 3rd-and-9, every time.

Still, Finley was a step back from the quarterback production Boise State is used to getting, and now it's his backups running the show.  Whether UVA will see more of Brett Rypien or Thomas Stuart, nobody is saying.  I at least like UVA's chances to finally get a turnover in this game.  The main concern is that whoever the Broncos choose, comes in and looks like a sudden star.  That's been known to happen once or twice or ten times in football history, usually to my teams.  However, despite poor results on defense so far, UVA faces a relatively favorable matchup here.

-- Favorability ratings

UVA run offense: 0
UVA pass offense: 6
UVA run defense: 4
UVA pass defense: 6

Average: 4

-- Outlook

There are three things to hang your hope-hat on for this game:

1) Matt Johns
2) The fact that UVA might finally get to see what they can do with a turnover or two
3) The fact that the UVA run game is so friggin' bad that it basically nullifies Boise's biggest strength.  If UVA has gotten this far with no ground game whatsoever, still won't have any, and looks likely to improve in other aspects of the game, that's a plus.

That last is half tongue-in-cheek, and half dead serious.  Naturally, of course, the flip side to that is that if Boise can put like five in the box and can still stop the run, Johns will find his passing lanes all clogged up.  That's the big danger.  The Broncos can stop the UVA run game with one hand tied behind their back, and such a huge advantage can't be taken lightly.

UVA also still has to fix the special teams, big-time.  Sure, Maurice Canady's big run was exciting, but that happened because of I-AA athletes, not because special teams are in wonderful shape.  Plus, Boise has held opponents completely scoreless in the red zone on half their trips - another place where the matchup is lopsided and one that can't be brushed aside at all.

This game feels a lot like another Notre Dame.  UVA will look good at times.  Being at home should help.  I think there's a really good chance to pull off the upset - but it would still be an upset.

Final score: BSU 30, UVA 26

-- Rest of the ACC

Byes: Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Pittsburgh

Georgia Tech at Duke - 12:00 - Duke lost to Northwestern, but it remains to be seen whether that means Duke is falling off this year or Northwestern is having one of their out-of-nowhere awesome seasons.  Could go either way.

Syracuse vs. LSU - 12:00 - Cuse didn't look like a good team before the season started, but they're 3-0 against more or less junk competition.  If they get squashed on Saturday, I'll start to think my initial impression was right.

North Carolina vs. Delaware - 12:30 - Did you know it was almost two years between Delaware ratifying the Constitution and North Carolina finally getting around to it?  That's not a terribly gripping fact but it's more interesting than anything about this game.

Wake Forest vs. Indiana - 12:30 - Fun fact about IU football: Pretty much every aerial promo shot of IU's stadium is taken during a game against Ohio State, because it's the only time the stadium is ever sold out and full of red-clad fans.  I did not make that up.

Boston College vs. Northern Illinois - 1:00 - NIU lost just 20-13 to Ohio State last week, so the world will be watching for an upset.  But then, BC had a close loss of their own last week.

Virginia Tech at East Carolina - 3:30 - History won't repeat itself....will it?

Louisville vs. Samford - 6:00 - Louisville is the best 0-3 team in the country and very likely to take the hell out of some frustration on Samford.

NC State at South Alabama - 8:00 - Best team the Pack have played so far.

Monday, September 21, 2015

the wrong lesson

Occasionally, an argument you hear in favor of "scheduling for success" is that a losing team needs to "learn how to win."  That is, if you find yourself in a dogfight, it's better that said dogfight be against a little puppy instead of an ugly junkyard dog, to increase the odds of winning.   Then, when you fight the junkyard dog you'll have winning experience and you'll know what it takes to win.  "Walk before you run" is another way of putting it.

If that game was a lesson in how to win, it should get the teacher fired.  It's like if your driver's ed teacher just put on an hour's worth of clips of Ronin and The Bourne Identity and then tossed you the keys.

Frankly, I'd rather the team learned nothing at all from beating William & Mary than any "how to win" lesson.  If that game drove home "how to win," they'll go 1-11 this year, because the lesson is: You can get outmuscled, outsmarted, outcoached, and badly outdisciplined, and still win as long as the opponent lets you break open a whole bunch of big plays.

Two weeks ago, post-UCLA, I wrote about how nothing had changed, and we just keep going back to that.  Mike London has succeeded in stamping an identity onto the team just as well as Tony Bennett has.  Those identities are 180 degrees from each other on the discipline spectrum, but there it is all the same.  You can count on Tony's teams to come up with a big stop when they need one, and you can count on one of London's seniors to take an incredibly stupid penalty at a crucial moment.  (Kwontie Moore, step on forward.**)

Worse yet is that for an entire half and a good portion of the second, UVA was dominated in the trenches.  By William & Mary.  Dominated.  The Tribe ran all over them.  They double-teamed David Dean and nobody else could shed a block.  The UVA offensive line and that wonderful power rushing game which was never going to happen, was putrid.  Lemme state this once more for effect: William & Mary dominated UVA in the trenches.

That's how you almost lose to them.  UVA was rescued by its athletes, which is basically London's recruiting gameplan.  Unfortunately, the other ACC teams have good athletes too.

**Mike Moore was hit with the penalty, and he's kind of culpable, but the reason it looked like he ran over the quarterback on that roughing-the-passer call was because Kwontie Moore gave him a totally unnecessary shove, into Mike's path.  Totally asinine.

-- First bullet point has to be this: Why in the blazing blue fuck can't this coaching staff figure out how to substitute????  How basic is this?  How did any of them get an actual coaching job not being able to do this?  Why is the whole lower deck screaming at them to put an 11th man on the field?  Normal teams have to burn a timeout, I dunno, maybe once every other game or so, over a little substitution confusion.  Even most lousy staffs can handle this.  This staff burns all three timeouts of the half with that problem.  Un-flippin'-believable.  If the complete unpreparedness for onside kicks and total lack of discipline by seniors didn't clue you in on the attention to detail paid by this staff, the chronic inability to execute a fundamental aspect of football should help you figure it out.  "Uncompromised Excellence" has devolved into "Uncompromised Incompetence."

-- I'd feel a lot more confidence in the offense if they put together more drives like the first drive of the day. Big plays are neato, but if you can consistently march methodically down the field like that, you're in business.  They sputtered a bit at first, but then the ball just kept on going, right through the red zone as if their usual red zone issues didn't exist.  I liked it a lot better than Taquan Mizzell's screen-pass touchdown, which was nice but not repeatable.  W&M blitzed a screen pass and Mizzell is faster than anyone they got, that's all.

-- How bad was the running game?  Mizzell busted a big play which was rather well-blocked.  But you always take out the biggest play - if you still average 3.5-4 yards after that, you're doing well.  Take that out, and take out Jordan Ellis's touchdown run which was incredibly poorly blocked and 100% Ellis's efforts (Ellis ran 39 yards on that play, 38 of which were after contact), and also take out anything Matt Johns did because those are sacks and scrambles.  Here's what you get: 33 yards on 21 carries.  Power running game!

-- Have to like seeing the passing game opened up lately.  I don't have any confidence in the running game, but this team will pull off a couple surprises - hell, they could still go bowling, despite everything - if they put the game in the hands of Matt Johns.  Incredibly boneheaded interception aside, Johns is quietly playing like one of the top QBs in the conference.  Only Miami's Brad Kaaya has more passing yards.  Good thing Johns is doing so well, because Greyson Lambert is absolutely tearing it up for UGA.  Johns is on pace to set the UVA single-season record for passing yards, and the way he's going I'd be more surprised if he missed it than if he made it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

what's new is old again

Welp.  Didn't take long.  It hardly seems worth writing about the latest chapter in the Mike London story because it's so uncannily similar to most of the other ones.  Talk up the latest new schemes, surprise with some swaggy hype-azz uniformz, lose by the book, chapter and verse.  OK, sure, it lacked a little something in the clock-management dumbassery department, but London did burn at least two timeouts that I can remember just because of play-call confusion.  So let's check that box.

Other boxes to check: annoying playcalling, offensive line depth biting us in the ass again, undisciplined penalties committed by seniors, crappy special teams, red zone ineptitude.  The list goes on.  A whole offseason and literally nothing has changed.  I sound surprised here, which I guess I am a little, because this time I'm really gonna get to kick that football.

I really hated those helmets, by the way, which you can chalk mostly up to my reflexive get-off-my-lawnism about uniforms.  UVA seems to be working on building a pretty solid brand identity.  You can instantly recognize those gorgeous home whites the baseball team wears, and the school uses a uniform wordmark across most other teams, if not all of them.

Football?  There's no brand identity anywhere.  The navy blue helmets would work at least to anchor the zillion other looks they think are wonderful attention getters.  Naw, let's ditch 'em and go with the marshmallow look.  And the look on Saturday was a horrible mishmash.  The pants are pure throwback - literally, because they come from the 1960s throwbacks they wore a while ago.  The jerseys are a clean, unadorned, modern take on a classic look.  And the helmets were $WAGGY HYPPPEEE, Oregon $tylez.  Pick a look.  (Preferably not swaggy hype.)  There's absolutely no attempt at a brand, an identity, a foundation, it's just "hey this would be a cool idea," and they slap it up there and there's no reason to do it or even any connection with the rest of the athletic program.

I wouldn't usually spend two paragraphs on the uniforms, but if by now you can't get the connection to the actual state of the program then we'll just have to leave you here.

Notre Dame comes to town next weekend.  Of the three difficult OOC games this is the one I expected to be toughest.  They just got done steamtrucking Texas, so I think I'm still thinking that.  If UVA is to steal an OOC win in one of those three games, Boise State is the place to look.

Some player-focused observations:

-- I was surprised Kelvin Rainey was credited with only five tackles.  He seemed to be all over, making tackles in front of the secondary and generally being much more visible than you'd expect from a first-year starter.  I liked it.  And it looks clear too that Micah Kiser is the real deal.

-- I was much less pleased with the defensive ends.  Mike Moore didn't look like a senior.  Kwontie Moore was hardly visible.  Trent Corney showed off his athleticism by actually juking his blocker, but then looked surprised that Josh Rosen actually moved away from the pressure.  Fortunately, he kind of moved toward the rest of the defensive line, but Corney's tackle attempt on that particular play looked like he still hasn't picked up a lot of fundamentals.

-- Matt Johns reminds me of a youngish NASCAR driver who clearly can drive in the lower series but moves up to the big time and is stuck on an underfunded team with an uncompetitive car, which he can't crash because they can't afford replacements.  He might compete for the winner's circle if he was allowed to drive aggressively into the corners, but he's just being asked to circle the track.  That's Steve Fairchild's playbook in a nutshell.  Johns can play quarterback, it's clear, but too often, he's not really allowed to.  Sure, he threw a pick when he cut loose, just like the driver might find a wall or two the hard way.  But in reading up about UCLA, one quote I saw was along the lines of Josh Rosen being handed the keys to a Ferrari, he just had to not crash it.  Well, Rosen took a shot downfield the very first chance he got, and it's obvious he's not just driving the Ferrari around the block.  Johns needs to be cut loose more too.  He's capable of making it work.

Until then we'll just keep throwing screen passes on every third-and-long of the game which they totally won't be expecting this time.

-- One game in and the offensive line is already a smoking wreck.  Eric Tetlow and Jake Fieler, out for the year.  Ryan Doull and Sadiq Olanrewaju, no telling when they'll be back.  Jay Whitmire, not ready to go full speed yet or he'd be out there at one of those positions somewhere.  The interior line was absolutely owned; UCLA's DTs were exactly the problem I thought they'd be, and the "power running game" went exactly as far as I thought it would.  I was openly skeptical of the power running thing; if I'd known we'd be missing four linemen going into the first game, I'd have been downright derisive.

That's OK, I'm sure we'll just recruit us a few more cornerbacks to make up for it.

It's pretty much official, I've skipped the optimistic, maybe-things-gonna-be-OK phase of the season and gone straight to snark.  With any luck that'll last the next eleven (or twelve, if Lucy doesn't pull that football away again) games and we can minimize the burning apathy, which is all that's left at the end.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

game preview: UCLA

Date/Time: Sat., September 5; 3:30

TV: Fox

Record against the Bruins: 0-1

Last meeting: UCLA 28, UVA 20; 8/30/14, Charlottesville

Last weekend: N/A

Line: UCLA by 20

Injury report: N/A

Here we go.  I have to admit, when this series was scheduled, I was really happy about it.  UVA was coming off a bowl season, one of the best in a while, and the London era was at its peak.  UCLA was stashed in a holding pattern of mediocrity.  They looked like exactly the kind of opponent UVA should be scheduling on the regular: a name brand that would provide a challenge without being a threat to establish a dynasty any time soon.

Now the Bruins are sort of like the LA Clippers with tradition.  They're the new "it" program in So-Cal, while their more acclaimed neighbors get used to the back seat.  UVA's program has all the it factor of Ball State, except people are trying to hire Ball State's coach.

This is a rematch of the game in which Matt Johns set in motion his own ascendance to the starting QB job.  Johns almost succeeded in pulling off a comeback last year against a UCLA team expected to roll.  That hasn't changed the sharps' expectations for this one; UVA is a massive underdog out in the storied Rose Bowl.  It's an uphill climb for UVA right from the get-go.

-- UVA run offense vs. UCLA run defense

(all stats 2014)

Top backs:
Taquan Mizzell: 64 carries, 280 yards, 4.4 ypc, 2 TDs
Daniel Hamm: 17 carries, 75 yards, 4.4 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
137.75 yards/game, 3.67 yards/attempt
102nd of 128 (national), 11th of 14 (ACC)

UCLA defense:
147.92 yards/game, 3.81 yards/attempt
34th of 128 (national), 4th of 12 (Pac-12)

We've heard the noise about how Steve Fairchild wants to establish a "power running game."  I'll be Doubting Thomas on that one til I see it.  The offensive line does appear improved over last year; it's more experienced and, because it's early in the season and nobody's had the chance to blow anything out, deeper.  (Plus, you have people like Jay Whitmire back.)

Still, the personnel we have doesn't favor power running.  Taquan Mizzell isn't going to lay the hammer down, and neither is Daniel Hamm, who's more of a one-cut-to-the-hole back - which implies a hole.  Albert Reid isn't exactly fullback-sized, but he's probably the best bet to fit in the power game.  Could Jordan Ellis contribute along those lines, too?  Wouldn't rule it out, but we haven't seen his game plan meet the enemy yet.

UCLA's personnel is set up to fit a 3-4 scheme, because that's what Jim Mora has been running.  The Bruins hired Tom Bradley to run the defense this year, and Bradley is a long, long-time 4-3 guy.  You might remember him as Penn State's interim choice to replace Joe Paterno in the wake of their scandal.  Bradley had been at Penn State for thirty-jillion years and got very, very entrenched in the 4-3.

That said, he's got the personnel he's got, so UCLA will probably not make that switch immediately.  Two absolutely massive D-linemen - Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark - anchor the front-seven, both weighing in at well over 300 pounds.  They're not just there to occupy space; both had at least 50 tackles last year.

UCLA is otherwise a bit inexperienced on the D-line, and has a pretty solid plethora of experienced linebackers, another reason the 3-4 front is worth preparing for.  They're led by veteran linebacker Myles Jack, taking over leadership of the defense from second-round NFL pick Eric Kendricks.

The biggest concern though, no pun intended, is the presence of Vanderdoes and Clark.  Is Steve Fairchild planning on trying to slam right into that front with offensive linemen who've shown time and again they struggle with straight-ahead power blocking?  Fairchild has a dilemma - he can either try that, or, after an offseason of touting his "power running" focus, abandon it in game one and set a waffling tone for the season.  I'm guessing the latter.  I don't see it working if UVA tries the hammer; they'll find the nail unwilling to move.

-- UVA pass offense vs. UCLA pass defense

(all stats 2014)

Matt Johns: 89/162, 54.9%; 1,109 yards, 8 TDs, 5 INTs; 6.85 yards/attempt, 122.6 rating

Top receivers:
Canaan Severin: 42 rec., 578 yards, 5 TDs
Taquan Mizzell: 39 rec., 271 yards, 0 TDs
Andre Levrone: 15 rec., 248 yards, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
236.4 yards/game, 6.6 yards/attempt
91st of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

UCLA defense:
250.6 yards/game, 6.6 yards/attempt
32nd of 128 (national), 3rd of 12 (Pac-12)

The Hoos catch a break here.  Senior cornerback Ishmael Adams, who'd started 26 straight games before losing his starting job in fall camp, decided it was a good idea to steal a cellphone belonging to an Uber driver, and was promptly arrested.  It leaves a big hole in UCLA's nickel defense.  Adams is a heck of an athlete - he totaled 115 return yards on two picks last year and was a kick returner too.

UCLA still has all sorts of talent and experience in the secondary, though, and some guys who really hurt UVA last year.  Not least is linebacker Myles Jack, who broke up Matt Johns's fourth-down pass in the red zone that could've set up the tying score.

It remains to be seen how Tom Bradley will change the defense, but UCLA wasn't very aggressive against the pass last year.  They were effective, but they didn't register a lot of pressure on quarterbacks.  They didn't get a sack on UVA (partly because in one instance Greyson Lambert managed to heave the ball into a defender's hands as a sack-avoidance tactic, but still.)  Plus most of their sack-masters graduated, the only returning threat being linebacker Deon Hollins.

Matt Johns did have something figured out against this defense last year, though.  I expect he'll still have time to operate; the Bruins lack a proven pass-rush threat from the front three (or four.)  If this game is going to go anywhere good, Johns has to be sharp all day long.  UVA's pass offense - with Lambert at the helm, mostly - generated most of UCLA's scoring last year.  The Bruins will definitely take advantage of mistakes, and the run game will be of little help, so the only path to victory here is for Johns to make none.

-- UCLA run offense vs. UVA run defense

(all stats 2014)

Top backs:
Paul Perkins: 251 carries, 1,575 yards, 9 TDs
Nate Starks: 31 carries, 141 yards, 2 TDs

UCLA offense:
209.54 yards/game, 4.89 yards/attempt
34th of 128 (national), 2nd of 12 (Pac-12)

UVA defense:
120.67 yards/game, 3.36 yards/attempt
19th of 128 (national), 4th of 14 (ACC)

UCLA loses a major dimension to their run game with the graduation of Brett Hundley.  It doesn't make a lot of difference in comparing to last year; the Hoos bottled up Hundley quite well and their doing so was what kept them in the game.  Without Hundley, UCLA will have to open up the depth chart a bit because Paul Perkins, workhorse that he is, won't be carrying the ball 500 times, and Josh Rosen isn't going to get those carries.

Perkins, though, is a tough customer.  He'll get a whole bunch of carries, and runs behind a very experienced offensive line.  Four starters return along the line for UCLA, most especially center Jake Brendel, who's a fifth-year senior and has only missed one start in all the games his team has played the past three years.  Perkins was effective in last year's game, averaging five yards a pop against UVA's perfectly good run defense.  It may help that the Hoos can just gear up to stop him and not worry about the quarterback, but UCLA is happy to put strength on strength here.  It won't be spectacular; Perkins can break an occasional big one, but most games his longest run was like 15 yards.  But he's certainly a test for a reloaded linebacker corps.

-- UCLA pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

(all stats 2014)

Josh Rosen: (no stats)

Top receivers:
Jordan Payton: 67 rec., 954 yards, 7 TDs
Devin Fuller: 59 rec., 447 yards, 1 TD
Thomas Duarte: 28 rec., 540 yards, 4 TDs

UCLA offense:
258.3 yards/game, 7.7 yards/attempt
38th of 128 (national), 5th of 12 (Pac-12)

UVA defense:
232.5 yards/game, 7.1 yards/attempt
71st of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

Interesting to see what happens here.  Josh Rosen was probably recruiting's biggest deal last year, as a no-shitter of a five-star QB.  He's being handed the keys to an offense that doesn't need much of a spark.  Besides that veteran offensive line, UCLA returns receivers galore.  Jordan Payton's stats speak for themselves up there, and the Bruins have multiple big play threats.  Thomas Duarte averaged almost 20 yards a catch last year, and three different receivers - Payton, Devin Fuller, and Eldridge Massington - had catches of at least 80 yards.

I've seen lots of UVA fans with a really simplistic approach to this: "Oh, he's a freshman, we'll just get some heat on him and rattle him."  It's not going to work quite like that.  Tenuta will certainly try, and probably succeed at times, but Rosen isn't the starter by just default, and most of our own pass rush from last year has hit the road too.

The good news is that all these returning receivers means they're the same receivers UVA covered with some success last year.  Payton burned the UVA defense with eight catches, and the Bruins pulled off some big plays, but UVA isolated those plays and they accounted for most of UCLA's passing yards.  And there is something to be said for the fact that it's a freshman and not a senior looking for the open guy.  All in all, I see this as a pretty balanced matchup.  UVA has a deep enough secondary to cope with the weapons UCLA brings to the field, and UCLA's line should be able to cope with the UVA pass rush.

-- Favorability ratings

(on a scale from 0 to 10 - the higher the better)

UVA run offense: 2.5
UVA pass offense: 4.5
UVA run defense: 6
UVA pass defense: 5

Average: 4.5

-- Outlook

UVA is a 20-point underdog, which sounds like a hell of a lot.  And it is, but there's a catch, too - last year, they were 21-point underdogs at home.  That's a seven-point swing in the right direction when you figure in the assumed three-point margin for the home team.

Then you have the London factor, which actually is a positive for UVA early in the season.  September is his month, and most of UVA's best wins have happened in the first month of the season.  That's a damning thing to say 11 months of the year and a pretty good thing when you're actually in September.  Is it enough to overcome the talent UCLA brings to the table?  Probably not.  They're also on the road, facing one of the Pac-12's top offenses and a defense pretty well-equipped to handle their own attack.  This game will be very interesting, but not quite interesting enough., and UCLA pulls away in the second half.

Final score: UCLA 27, UVA 14

-- Rest of the ACC

North Carolina vs. South Carolina - Thurs. 6:00 - First game of the I-A season.

Wake Forest vs. Elon - Thurs. 7:00 - Fighting Christians vs. Demon Deacons is exactly why that school should still be called the Fighting Christians.

Georgia Tech vs. Alcorn State - Thurs. 7:30 - Eh.

Duke @ Tulane - Thurs. 9:30 - People who say Duke "schedules for success" forget that they do that because they have to drop down to Tulane before they find a school that will give them a home-and-home.

Syracuse vs. Rhode Island - Fri. 7:00 - Would make a much better basketball matchup.

Clemson vs. Wofford - 12:30 - Clemson smash.

Boston College vs. Maine - 1:00 - Would make a much better hockey matchup.

Pittsburgh vs. Youngstown State - 1:00 - There's a Rust Belt joke here somewhere, but I'm not going to be the one to make it.

Louisville vs. Auburn - 3:30 - Games like this - in the Georgia Dome - are why Louisville was so keen on joining the ACC - and why the southern portion of the conference was so keen on picking them over UConn.

Miami vs. Bethune-Cookman - 6:00 - Eh again.

NC State vs. Troy - 6:00 - Eh one more time.

Florida State vs. Texas State - 8:00 - Eh yet again boy I can't wait til UVA schedules these teams all the time can you.

Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State - Monday 8:00 - The Hokies get the chance to relive the greatest win in program history.

Monday, August 31, 2015

2015 football preview: defense

The defense is both the source of most of the optimism and most of the pessimism surrounding this team. (Personnel-wise, that is; the notion that Mike London might, at any time, walk to the locker room at halftime with two timeouts in his pocket, having failed to score from the opponent's 35, accounts for a significant portion of the pessimism.)  Pessimism because a lot of really talented players departed; optimism, because the defense still has most of the best players on the team, and Jon Tenuta coaching them.

This last is why the scales should tilt toward the optimistic side.  There are a couple legitimate holy terrors on this defense, and some newcomers with the usual associated question marks, but also with a couple years of excellent coaching and experience in a scheme that works.  Starting with a rock-solid foundation at defensive tackle, this defense should keep the Hoos in most games.  I'm about as optimistic as you could ever be about a defense that loses five of its top six tacklers.


Starters: #34 Kwontie Moore, #55 David Dean, #9 Andrew Brown, #32 Mike Moore

Backups: #6 Darrious Carter, #56 Andre Miles-Redmond, #93 Donte Wilkins, #43 Trent Corney

This might be the top pairing of defensive tackles in the league.  That statement comes with two caveats: one, David Dean doesn't have the stats to back up that very bold statement, and two, it depends a great deal on Andrew Brown's development.  Nonetheless, it's out there.  Dean wasn't asked to destroy backfields last year because Eli Harold and Max Valles were doing a great job of that on their own.  But his talent has always been plain to see, and now in his senior year, he's expected to be knifing into the backfield with regularity.

Andrew Brown got a few chances to flash his five-star stuff last year, but nothing extensive; this year, his chance is for real.  How he performs will go a very long way toward determining the formations.  (That is, if he can't be kept off the field, Tenuta will feel very comfortable with a 4-2-5 nickel of four conventional linemen and two linebackers.  If Dean is the only consistently dependable DT, the nickel will be more 3-3-5ish, or else Mike Moore will move inside more often.)  He won't be doing it alone; you're not fully staffed at DT unless you've got three you can depend on, and Donte Wilkins rounds that out nicely.  Wilkins won't pile up the stats, but he can occupy the middle just fine and give Dean and Brown a breather.  Fourth tackle Andre Miles-Redmond will see a few snaps scattered around the season, but the bulk of the load and almost all the meaningful snaps will go to the top three.

End is a bit stranger of a situation.  Last year's most often-used formation was either a 4-2-5 or a 3-3-5, depending on what you called Max Valles.  The staff called him a linebacker.  Fine, but if it walks like a defensive end and quacks like a defensive end.... At any rate, Mike Moore was on the field most of the time, nickel formation or not, and playing either a real DE role or more of a three-tech DT.  This year I would guess the formations will be a bit more conventional, as the linebacking corps lacks a hyper-athlete suitable for playing with his hand on the ground.  Moore is therefore the only really experienced DE and likely to actually play that role in earnest this year.

The other options are a pair of seniors who came highly touted (in different ways) but have yet to make a major contribution.  Kwontie Moore was a four-star linebacker who damn well should've redshirted, didn't, grew out of the position, and has had to spend a while behind some unstoppable talents.  He's not going to play just because he's listed as a starter; he'll play as much as he shows he should.  Same for Trent Corney, another nonsensically burned redshirt whose toutedness was more about his exceptional athletic talents that have never translated into usable football skills.  If they do, Corney could remind everyone of Valles.

There won't be the fearsome pass rush that UVA featured last year.  There just won't.  There's no substitute for being able to bring a freak of nature to flank both sides of the line.  Mike Moore is a capable and sometimes dangerous player, but that's not the same as Eli Harold being a threat on every play.  Corney is the best chance at providing a big-time edge rush.  Otherwise, most of the pressure is going to come right up the middle.  Not kidding when I say Dean and Brown have a chance to be the top DT pair in the league, and there are some worthy players at that position in the ACC.  Depends on a thing or two, sure, but the chance is there all the same.


Starters: #59 Mark Hall, #53 Micah Kiser, #51 Zach Bradshaw

Backups: #27 Malcolm Cook, #22 Jahvoni Simmons, #15 C.J. Stalker

If you want to find most of the question marks on this defense, you've come to the right place.  That's no knock on the players above, it's just the natural thing when all your starters depart and said starters were some of the best players of the position in recent memory.  Henry Coley and Daquan Romero, plus Valles in his Darryl Blackstock role, gave UVA a linebacking corps that Al Groh would've been thrilled with.

That's the past, though.  How to replace them is the thing.  By all accounts, Micah Kiser is ready for the job in the middle.  A highly-ranked recruit a couple years ago, Kiser has been apprenticing for this role ever since, and expectations are high.  He's not likely to play at the level of senior-year Coley, but he's ready.  Zach Bradshaw, too, has been touted as a ready replacement on the weak side.

They'd better be up for it.  The answer behind them is: nobody, until you dip into the ranks of the true freshmen.  Bradshaw will be getting a very hard push from behind, because C.J. Stalker was an early enrollee this past spring, and has been getting more press than the usual true freshman this fall.  Stalker isn't likely to redshirt.  Neither is Jahvoni Simmons.  The freshman class of linebackers was so deep that there's no way London can resist using some of them, and frankly it might even make sense to.

That leaves the strong side, which was technically what Valles played.  Mark Hall is more of a traditional-mold linebacker, capable probably of taking on a tight end's downfield block but unlikely to play a pass-rush-terror role.  His backup, at least coming out of the spring, is Malcolm Cook, who weighs 205 pounds.  Cook is not a linebacker, he's a moonlighting safety, to be used if the coaches decide the nickel package calls for a third safety rather than a cornerback.  Hall might be listed as a starter for the majority of the games, but I expect his snaps to be much more limited than for his compatriots.

Frankly, the productivity of this unit isn't going to be what we were used to these past couple years.  It's unrealistic to expect Kiser, Bradshaw, and a bunch of true freshmen to jump right in with the instincts that Coley and Romero had developed.  There's reason to believe in the future, though, and reason as well to believe that future might arrive in a couple months rather than a couple years.


Starters: #1 Demetrious Nicholson, #26 Maurice Canady, #38 Kelvin Rainey, #3 Quin Blanding

Backups: #5 Tim Harris, #11 Divante Walker, #28 Wil Wahee, #16 Mason Thomas

As with defensive tackles, you've got a hole in your depth chart if you don't have three cornerbacks.  And as with defensive tackles, UVA has three starter-quality guys all lined up.  The return of Demetrious Nicholson after a medical redshirt season is a tremendously welcome development.  Nicholson spent the first half of last year rehabbing from injury, gave it a shot, and was obviously unready.  In one of the better redshirt decisions this staff has made, they decided a full year of rehab and then a full year of healthy football was a better option than trying to work out on a bum wheel.

It's a safe bet, therefore, that he, Canady, and Tim Harris will all be on the field at the same time for a lot of snaps.  Harris is probably the odd man out (most of the time) in more traditional formations, but he'll play basically starter's snaps anyway.  And he should be ready to take a big step forward; he's been working his way toward a big-time role for a couple years now.  Along with fourth corner Divante Walker, who proved a solid option as a backup last year, the cornerback unit is a veteran bunch and top-to-bottom the strongest position on the team.

But they don't have the best player on the team.  That's Quin Blanding and there's no argument.  Only a sophomore, Blanding had a brilliant debut last year.  There's an old heuristic that says if your safeties have the most tackles on the team, your defense sucks.  But you can flip that on its head when the defense is among the best in the country at basic defense stuff like stopping the run.  Then when your safeties lead the team in tackles, that means you have really frickin' good safeties.  Not only did Blanding lead the team by a lot, he was 3rd in the whole damn conference.

His partner in crime, Anthony Harris, has graduated, so UVA promotes Kelvin Rainey to the starting strong safety spot.  It's hard to get a read on how he looked last year because Blanding and Harris rarely left the field.  I don't recall any major screw-ups, which is nice, but he didn't have much chance to.  Rainey is a downgrade from Harris for sure, but that's in the same vein as the linebackers; you just can't immediately and seamlessly replace players that good.

Like last year, though, I don't expect to see much of the backups.  Blanding is going to be on the field for every snap that might remotely affect the outcome of a game.  On the other hand, Wil Wahee could push Rainey, and the more you see him the more you'll know the coaches are having some indecision.  Safeties doesn't need to be rotated the way, say, DTs do.

Blanding alone would make the secondary something for opposing QBs to worry about, but they'll also have those excellent cornerbacks to worry about.  If there's anything resembling a pass rush, it'll be an exponential help to the turnover numbers, and Blanding is like having an extra linebacker and running a 4-4-4 defense.


Here's the individual prediction for every scholarship defender on the roster:

#1 - CB Demetrious Nicholson - Assuming he's healthy, and nobody's ever said he isn't, he's top cornerback dog again by mid-October.  Probably takes him a few games to really get back up to speed.

#2 - CB Kirk Garner - Hasn't yet caught up to Divante Walker on the depth chart, which is ominous even though Walker is a year older.  As the fifth cornerback in the pecking order, will play sporadically.

#3 - FS Quin Blanding - Tackles leader again, probably with even more than last year's total of 123.  Will play every snap unless the game is out of reach one way or the other.  First-team all-ACC is the goal here - I don't see two other better safeties in the league.

#5 - CB Tim Harris - Third cornerback, which still means basically starters' reps.  He needs to get plenty of looks this year because it's his turn next year to draw all the top assignments.

#6 - DE Darrious Carter - His height could give him an edge on Chris Peace as they battle to pick up the scraps of the reps at DE.  Those scraps usually come on passing downs where you need someone fresh to just rip it after the QB.  I don't think we'll see a lot of Carter, but somewhere along the line he'll do something that keeps him fresh in a lot of minds, similar to Thompson Brown's moment of glory against Miami.

#7 - CB Kareem Gibson - Redshirt if all we're talking about is defense, but just watch him make two special teams tackles this year and cause gnashing of teeth over the redshirt policy.

#9 - DT Andrew Brown - Breakout season the same way his classmate Blanding opened eyes last year.  Brown is going to get a lot of chances early as teams decide David Dean is the one they should be double-teaming.  He'll make someone pay for it.  Nose tackles don't usually have eye-popping numbers, so maybe I should back off a skosh on the breakout season stuff (national media needs to see stats or they don't care) but he's ready to be a force this year.

#11 - CB Divante Walker - He'll be visible.  Admittedly, that doesn't sound like a lot, but he's the clear fourth cornerback, which means he'll get quite a bit more playing time than the guys below him on the depth chart, and quite a bit less than the guys above.  Don't expect a major impact; if he just keeps receivers in front of him we'll be happy and declare him ready to move up the ladder next year.

#13 - CB Myles Robinson - Redshirt, with the same special teams caveat we give all of London's freshman "don't quite know where we'll put you yet but sign here anyway" athletes.

#15 - LB C.J. Stalker - Stalker will play.  I know, trading his best year for his worst.  We hardly have a choice.  The roster doesn't have six non-true-freshman linebackers.  The guy listed behind Stalker on the post-spring depth chart was Jordan Jackson, who left the team.  Those aren't likely to be unrelated developments.  Truth is, the competition at WLB probably isn't over, and may not be for a few games.

#16 - S Mason Thomas - Is backing up Blanding, therefore garbage time only.  Special teamer most of the time.

#21 - FS Juan Thornhill - Redshirt, plus usual caveat.  Won't see any time on defense.

#22 - LB Jahvoni Simmons - See Stalker, except that the tea leaves suggest Micah Kiser has a stronger grip on the MLB job, which doesn't give Simmons as much room to operate.  Still, he's not redshirting.

#26 - CB Maurice Canady - Will probably lead the team in interceptions, unless Blanding does.  He's the most physical of the three starting corners, in contrast to Nicholson's rather technical game, which means Nicholson will generally cover the most dangerous receivers while Canady takes the slot guys and operates closer to the middle of the field.

#27 - LB Malcolm Cook - And by LB we really mean safety that plays closer to the line.  I think the position switch is ominous.  After he was hyped as all that and a bag of chips, as a safety he should've been able to pass the oft-injured Wil Wahee.  Now he's moved to a position where there are way more talented freshmen than you'd expect.  I could be wrong.  Could be the coaches plan on using him as a third safety in a three-safety nickel package.  But Canady can do that pretty well, if you're looking for run support, and has more experience and better cover skills besides.  The opinions I've seen seem to think Cook is going to be used heavily.  I'm preparing to eat the ol' crow dinner, but I believe otherwise.

#28 - SS Wilfred Wahee - Backup strong safety for now, and if Rainey pans out he'll stay that way.  But along with WLB this is one of the more open positions on the defense, and Wahee should be at least as visible as Divante Walker.

#29 - LB Eric Gallon - Redshirt with usual caveat.

#30 - LB Dominic Sheppard - Let's say 50/50 chance he plays, and on defense too.  But he's at best a clear third in the freshman-LB pecking order.

#31 - DE Chris Peace - To be honest I think Peace is on his way to bulking up more and becoming more of a strongside DE like Mike Moore.  He's fairly short and unless he's just super-lightning-quick he'll be overwhelmed by most OTs.  Probably going to see him only sporadically, as I don't think he's fully physically developed into the player the coaches have in mind.

#32 - DE Mike Moore - Has dropped 10 or so pounds, a sign the coaches want him to play actual DE and not the tackle-ish role he played in the past.  Not going to match Eli Harold's production, but still the likely sack leader on the team.

#34 - DE Kwontie Moore - All the way up to 280 pounds, he's going to take that job that Mike Moore was doing in the past.  Ideally can be a run-stopping anchor on one side of the line, but I have no idea how much he'll actually play because nobody outside the coaches has much idea if he's really - finally - ready to contribute.

#36 - LB Gladimir Paul - Redshirt + caveat.

#38 - SS Kelvin Rainey - Has huge shoes to fill, and if you think that means matching Anthony Harris's production then he hasn't a prayer.  But you would be piling on unreasonable expectations.  Rainey should be just fine; even with a push from Wahee and maybe even Cook, I expect him to hold down the job just fine.

#39 - CB Darious Latimore - Sixth cornerback, redshirt freshman - garbage time only.

#43 - DE Trent Corney - He'll play more snaps this year than his previous three years combined, and while he won't be a complete monster, he'll do just enough that his burnt redshirt alone is enough for a fresh run on the goods at Charlottesville Torch & Pitchfork.

#47 - LB Tucker Gamble - Likely to be passed up by the newly-arrived freshman class.

#51 - LB Zach Bradshaw - Will dogfight with C.J. Stalker to hold down the WLB spot.  I'm not fool enough to try and handicap that race, because I could easily see a platoon lasting all season.  I could just as easily see one or the other clearly pulling ahead.

#53 - LB Micah Kiser - On the other hand, I think Kiser becomes a fixture, and the leading tackler not named Blanding.

#54 - LB Cory Jones - Hard to see where his role is this year.  His best shot is in a Valles-like role, but we'd've heard by now if he was making any noise along those lines.  Very few snaps available.

#55 - DT David Dean - For UVA's defense to be at its best, Dean can't just occupy blockers, he needs to be able to slash and rip past them.  He's the marquee player in the front seven and has to play like it.  Has a respectable chance at first-team all-ACC, especially if Brown blows up too, though the competition is reasonably strong.

#56 - DT Andre Miles-Redmond - He's the fourth DT, so there is some playing time available.  He got into all of two games last year; he won't be an every-game player but he'll see more than two.

#57 - DT James Trucilla - Redshirt, and no caveat even.

#58 - DT Eli Hanback - Ditto.

#59 - LB Mark Hall - "Starting strong-side linebacker" doesn't mean what it means on most teams.  Hall is likely to be a running-down player and be the first guy off the field on passing downs.  He'll play and be visible, but he'll play less than some so-called backups.

#93 - DT Donte Wilkins - Third DT who will play about half as much as Brown and Dean.  He'll be a regular and a solid one, though unlikely to set off fireworks.

#94 - DE Naji Abdullah - Redshirt.

#96 - DE Steven Wright - Ditto.

That's a wrap on the season preview.  This week there'll be a UCLA preview, and I do have a full-blown ACC preview cooking, but it'll have to wait til next week.

Monday, August 24, 2015

2015 football preview: offense

Of the two main position units (no, special teams is not one-third of the game, it just feels that way when they screw up) it's obvious which one has been Mike London's undoing so far.  Only one of London's teams has finished in the top half of the ACC in passing offense (keeping in mind: I use yards per play, not per game, for metrics like this) and weirdly it was the one with Marc Verica in charge.  The same holds true for running offense, but it wasn't the same team - it was, unsurprisingly, London's only bowl team.

Therefore any hope of rescuing London's tenure lies here.  Yes, London's fate rests largely in Steve Fairchild's hands.  When you put it that way, it just might be tantamount to putting a For Sale sign in front of London's house right now.  Nevertheless, it's sink or swim with the group we got.


Starter: #15 Matt Johns

Backups: #2 Connor Brewer, #3 Corwin Cutler

It's been a different name in that starter's role every season at this time for literally every year of Mike London's tenure.  If you're looking for How To Screw Up An Offense 101, you're in the right room.  Even so, this year offers a bit more stability than usual.  Not saying much, but it's true.  Johns did start three games last year while London did his usual waffle job on the quarterbacks, and played enough (and well enough) that a lot of fans expressed a legitimate preference for his game.

Backup envy is a pretty common affliction among fans of any sport and any team, and it's especially prevalent among UVA fans.  But there was a shade of legitimacy to this.  Johns was less accurate than the usual starter, Greyson Lambert, but less intercepty, too, more scrambly, and more willing to air it out a little.

Johns got plenty of experience last year, but sat out three of the last five games and had very limited action in the other two.  But Johns got a leg up in the competition during spring practice and Lambert transferred shortly after, meaning Johns spent the summer as the unquestioned, obvious starter.  And that's something nobody's really had the chance to do under London.  Johns has no competition in fall camp and unless London decides to get especially capricious, shouldn't face any during the season, either.  A coach would simply have to have a pathological addiction to controversy to create any issues when the starter is so far ahead of the backups.  Johns is a redshirt junior, too, making him the most senior player since Verica to start at QB for London.

No UVA quarterback has ever passed for 3,000 yards in a season.  Matt Schaub fell fewer than 50 yards short - twice.  It's not that difficult of a milestone; a few times, even recently, during London's time, the quarterbacks have combined to do it.  But nobody's done it by themselves.  This could well be the year for it.  Some receivers will have to step up, and the offense needs a little less reliance on finding new and innovative ways to dump it to the running backs.  But if Johns is as much the unquestioned starter in November as he is in August, he's got a shot to do it.

As for the backups, I'm not even sure the coaches will make a decision until the very minute they have to put one in.  Corwin Cutler didn't get much useful learning time last year and Connor Brewer is new to the whole system, not to mention reportedly rather shorter than the 6'2" he's listed at.  Neither has anything resembling useful game experience.  As much as UVA fans always like to think the backup can step in and do better than the starter, that's not going to be the case this year.


Starter: #4 Taquan Mizzell

Backups: #22 Daniel Hamm, #5 Albert Reid, #10 Jordan Ellis

Polar opposite from the QB situation is the RB competition.  Kind of a funny reversal, after so much stability at this position lately.  Perry Jones held down the job for a while, and Kevin Parks was a three-year workhorse.  There's always been some platooning, but this year we're looking at a genuine competition.

Taquan Mizzell looks like the front-runner; at least, he's the one with the most experience, having basically spent the last two years apprenticing for the job.  And despite perceptions of disappointment, he averaged more yards a carry than either of the starters last year.  No, he didn't really look like a five-star player, but neither did he look unready.  He also caught more passes than anyone but Canaan Severin.

So really, it's Mizzell.  But UVA doesn't pile the load on just one guy, and there'll be carries to go around.  Daniel Hamm has played sparingly but impressively, against low-end competition, and earned a scholarship along the way.  He's likely to take a front-seat role of some kind this year.  Transfer back Albert Reid and redshirt freshman Jordan Ellis - at least one of them - are going to be as much in the mix for carries as Mizzell was last year, which is to say, they'll be more than visible.

The thing that worries me is this: The coaches talked about having a "power running game."  With which backs, exactly?  Other than LaChaston Smith, who barely plays and ought to have been a linebacker, size is not a feature of this group.  Mizzell is the kind of guy you want to put out in space.  Hamm is a one-cut hole-finder.  Reid is a bit more of a bowling ball, and Ellis came in with a rep as more of a pounder than a slasher, but neither is exactly in line for 200 carries this year.

There's intriguing potential here, but the group needs to be used correctly and, obviously, needs the blocking to improve.  I don't see a 1,000-yard rusher happening, and a bad season could see all of them fail to top 600 yards.  Mizzell could become a star, it's very possible.  He wouldn't even really need to reach 1,000 yards to do it.  He'll almost definitely be an enormous part of the passing game.  But this unit has a lot to prove, and is just as likely to disappoint as to pleasantly surprise.  UVA fans should brace for both.


Starters: #9 Canaan Severin, #14 Andre Levrone, #85 Keeon Johnson

Backups: #17 Kyle Dockins, #19 Doni Dowling, #82 David Eldridge

This is what's known in the business as a wild-ass guess.  Largely that's because injuries have already started to slam this unit left and right.  The most disappointing, of course, was the broken collarbone suffered by T.J. Thorpe.  Scheduled to miss 10 weeks after his surgery, I'd guess he'll return sometime in October.  A real disappointment not only on the team level - he's capable, when healthy, of a dimension that really no one else brings - but also personally, since it was clear he was looking forward to a healthy, fresh-start year.

There've also been some ding-ups to a few other guys like Severin and Levrone, but they haven't sounded serious and my guess is that with Thorpe hurt and Doni Dowling not to be cleared til at least September, the coaches were being hypercautious in holding them out too.  Come the start of the season, Severin looks ready to be the breakout star of the unit.  He had a very nice season last year, and he and Matt Johns have a rapport going.  If he doesn't lead the team in just about every receiving category this year, either he was hurt or someone else made a supernova impact.

Many of the remaining players have a story where they've all teased with some solid production over a stretch of games, but haven't yet put it together.  Levrone, Johnson, Dowling, Dockins, they've all had their moments.  But none has really stepped up yet to grab control.  If even one of them (and that's probably all there's room for) can string together 12 really and truly dependable games, alongside Severin as a bona fide #1, then there's a good chance 12 games can become 13.  The goal for all four of them is to make the question of how to re-integrate Thorpe more difficult.

There's room, too, for another contributor or two.  The best bet right now looks like freshman David Eldridge.  His name keeps popping up, and he's got some speed going for him.  Eldridge looks likely to have the kind of season that sparks redshirt arguments - he might easily be one of the top six receivers, especially if bodies are stuck on the sideline.  He also probably won't top 15 catches, but he'll provide a moment or two.  Enough for some people to say "you gotta play your best players" and for others to say "too bad he can't go five years now" and for both to be right.  That's the prediction here and I'm sticking to it.


Starter: #86 Charlie Hopkins

Backups: #89 Rob Burns, #45 Evan Butts

By contrast to the other pass-catchers, there might be even less doubt about this position than about the quarterbacks.  Rob Burns might get some pass-catching action, but he's too tall and thin to be a consistently effective run-blocker.  Evan Butts is likewise not bulked all the way up, and still only a redshirt freshman.

Hopkins, though, has spent considerable time learning the ways of blocking as a tight end.  He's also absolutely itching to show off his pass-catching abilities, having been used almost exclusively as a blocker at Stanford.  Mike London simply has not recruited many tight ends, trusting that the generic athletes he recruits can be turned into them.  That turned up Jake McGee, a great pass-catcher but no blocker at all, and so far not much else.  Hopkins is UVA's chance to have its first true traditional dual-use tight end since John Phillips in 2008.


Starters: #76 Michael Mooney, #63 Ryan Doull, #65 Ross Burbank, #71 Jack McDonald, #72 Eric Smith

Backups: #77 Jay Whitmire, #62 Sean Karl, #50 Jackson Matteo, #68 Eric Tetlow, #64 Jake Fieler

Let's be honest.  You can read media reports, watch practices, and glean every available hint from every leak and every source.  And if you're asked for a definitive answer as to who the starters are on this line, and your answer is anything other than "lol i dunno," you're lying.

There are a lot of players with some experience here.  There are very few players with a lot of experience.  Two players - Whitmire and Burbank - are seniors, but Whitmire is coming off a serious back injury and nobody can really say whether he'll be able to return to form.  "Form" for him is pretty darn good - Whitmire was well on his way to being an all-ACC lineman.  But now, he's another unknown quantity.  Burbank has bounced between center and guard all his career, because despite the fact that he's never really jumped out and seized the center position, neither has anyone else.

So maybe he's the center, maybe it's Jackson Matteo.  Maybe Whitmire can grab the LT spot, or maybe it falls to Michael Mooney.  Maybe Jake Fieler comes out of nowhere and steals RT from budding star Eric Smith.  Maybe Jack McDonald plays one of the guard spots, or else Burbank does, or maybe Ryan Doull can hold off Sean Karl.  (This latter idea is scary.  Karl played turnstile on two blocked punts last year, including the Tech game one.)  Maybe Sadiq Olanrewaju comes back from injury and bumps someone.

Right now, not even the coaches know what's going to happen.  That's a statement that'll hold true possibly even through game week.  Almost everyone here has game experience of some kind, but not everyone here was impressive in said game experience, nor was said game experience necessarily useful.  On the plus side, UVA shouldn't have to rely much on underclassmen; most of these guys now have multiple seasons in the conditioning program and have at least been coached up some.

Still.  This group has a lot to prove.  I mean a hell of a lot.  We're not far removed from watching the O-line get stood up almost literally every time they needed just two feet of forward push.  Now Fairchild's talking power running.  Fullbacks, tight ends, the works.  For that to work you simply can't finesse your way around the field, and the truth is, finesse-blocking is really what this gang has been much better at under Fairchild.  When asked to steer defenders a certain way, they've done quite well opening holes.  When asked to shove defenders a certain way, it doesn't work.

The above is my bestest guess at a first-snap lineup.  From there, anything can happen.  I expect a lot of rotation early in the year.  Burbank played most of the year at center last year, so ultimately I think he'll end up back there most of the time.  At tackle, Whitmire could easily break back into the first group, maybe even as early as the second quarter against UCLA.  Smith is too experienced to lose the RT job.  The guards will basically just be the best available players left after that.

But about the only thing that seems like a sure bet is that the same five guys won't start every game.  In 12 games you might see five or six different starting combos.  Is all that rotation and uncertainty healthy?  No, not really, but it's the best we can do right now until somebody puts a little authority into their performance.


Finally, for the offensive preview, a quick prediction for each offensive scholarship player in numerical order:

#1 - WR Warren Craft - Redshirt.

#2 - QB Connor Brewer - Will win the backup job and play some in garbage time.

#3 - QB Corwin Cutler - Third quarterback; best chance at seeing the field is in the fourth quarter against William & Mary.

#4 - RB Taquan Mizzell - Gets the majority or at least a plurality of carries.  Runs for 600-750 yards, gathers about 40 receptions.

#5 - RB Albert Reid - Splits time about evenly with Daniel Hamm as the secondary back.  200-some yards, maybe a bit over 300.

#6 - QB Nick Johns - Redshirt.

#8 - WR T.J. Thorpe - Returns for the Syracuse game.  Plays a somewhat complementary role for the season, but immediately starts returning punts.  Has one play at some point this year that makes us really wish he'd gotten the whole season in.  Ultimately catches about 20 passes and runs the ball 15 or so times.  All this is assuming he stays healthy.

#9 - WR Canaan Severin - By the end of the year we're talking about him as the season's breakout player and lamenting the fact he never redshirted.  Leads team in receiving yards and catches.

#10 - RB Jordan Ellis - Sparse carries as the fourth tailback.

#14 - WR Andre Levrone - I think Levrone wins the derby as the early second option at wide receiver and catches about 25-30 passes.

#15 - QB Matt Johns - Doesn't quite reach that 3,000 yard mark, but does throw for more yards than any UVA QB since Marc Verica in 2010, and possibly more.  That sounds like damnation with faint praise, but remember, Verica was actually pretty solid as a senior that year, his main issue being the occasional bizarre interception.  Johns will also finish with more touchdowns than INTs, which is something all starting quarterbacks should do but hasn't been done by a UVA starter since Mike Rocco in 2012.

#16 - TE Brendan Marshall - Very little use, if any, since this is his first crack at the position and there are at least three options in front of him.

#17 - WR Kyle Dockins - Something like the fourth or fifth receiver.  Dockins hasn't had double-digit receptions yet in his career, and if that does change this year it won't be by much.

#19 - WR Doni Dowling - Slow start since he won't even be cleared to run around til next month.  Most likely that'll cost him, and we're not going to see him up to speed until early October.  Probably 10-15 catches this year.

#22 - RB Daniel Hamm - See Albert Reid.  This is Hamm's year to break into the rotation, and he'll do so as a solid complementary back.

#25 - RB Chris Sharp - Redshirt, with the caveat that London's redshirt policies are not always sane.

#30 - RB LaChaston Smith - Not really in the plans.  Probably will get some W&M carries.  Because of his size, may be called on for a very-short-yardage carry at some point.

#33 - RB Olamide Zacchaeus - Redshirt, but see Sharp, Chris.  It wouldn't surprise at all to see a teeth-gnashing burnt redshirt for one of these guys at the tail end of the W&M game and then never see them again til 2016.

#41 - FB Connor Wingo-Reeves - Most likely ahead of LaChaston Smith in the pecking order for short-yardage carries.  No fullbacks got any carries last year, but they might dole out a few more this year to the FBs, and Wingo-Reeves is the top candidate.

#44 - TE Tanner Cowley - Redshirt.

#45 - TE Evan Butts - Think he'll leapfrog Rob Burns as the second tight end option behind Hopkins, and pull down a small handful of receptions.

#47 - FB Vincent Croce - Croce is a team captain this year, so the coaches will find a role for him.  He'll get some carries, because senior captain, though Wingo-Reeves is a better option as a surprise pass-catcher.  He'll also get plenty of chances to knock heads with linebackers.  It'll be up to the offensive line whether that means he springs a big gain or just plugs the last remnants of the already-closing tiny gap in the scrum.

#50 - C Jackson Matteo - Spends most of the year as the backup center, but gets his snaps in here and there.

#52 - OT Grant Polk - Redshirt.

#62 - OG Sean Karl - Second-team lineman, but with limited snaps.

#63 - OG Ryan Doull - Spends a lot of time bouncing between starter and second-team, but plays a significant number of snaps either way.

#64 - OT Jake Fieler - Offensive winner of the annual award for most-hyped player in the preseason only to disappear in the regular season.  Not exactly his fault, he's a redshirt freshman competing with a whole bunch of upperclassmen.  Fieler won't be around much, yet.  Wait till 2017.

#65 - C Ross Burbank - Holds down the center job for most if not all the season.  I'd have a lot more confidence if there was anything at all out of practice saying, yes, Burbank is absolutely the center, no more questions about it, but that's not the case.  Still, the coaches have a best-five philosophy, and the only real way to put the best five on the field is if Burbank plays center.

#67 - OT Jack English - At least he's not trying to play LT as a 260-pounder anymore - hooray for a minimum amount of functional depth this year - but the competition at tackle is too much for now and he's bound for a year of watching and learning.

#68 - C Eric Tetlow - Listed as a center, but I think most of the time he sees this year will be as a second-string guard rotating in to let others have a breather.  Should get a few series a game.

#70 - OG Steven Moss - Not quite ready for the two-deep, but he's had his redshirt season, and should get a handful of snaps, likely making his debut against W&M.

#71 - OG Jack McDonald - Like Doull, probably bounces between starting and second line, but will be a major contributor.

#72 - OT Eric Smith - Wasn't the starting RT when practice began, but I refuse to believe that was anything but a motivational ploy.  He's started too many games and experience is too badly needed on the line to not start him.  Along with Burbank, the player most likely to start all 12 games on the line.

#74 - OT Ryan Bischoff - Redshirt.

#75 - OT Sadiq Olanrewaju - Interesting options when he gets back.  Likely to begin as a second-string tackle, and could move back into the starting lineup where he's made cameos in the past.  If so, Mooney or Whitmire can handle guard perfectly well.

#76 - OT Michael Mooney - Should start the season at LT, but will be looking over his shoulder at Whitmire.  Probably will be a role for him no matter what, but his job isn't secure.

#77 - OT Jay Whitmire - If really and truly healthy, Whitmire is the best lineman on the team, and will play wherever there's a weak point on the line to be shored up.  If Mooney is handling LT just fine, Whitmire would probably play guard and really shore up the running game.  If not, Whitmire plays LT and ensures solid blind-side protection.  If he's not playing at all, it means his back is killing him.

#78 - C R.J. Proctor - Redshirt.  The OL still isn't the most rock-solid position unit on the team and one of the shakier OLs in the league til proven otherwise, but there is one very big improvement from years past: I just put redshirts on every single one of the freshmen.  Even just the ability to do that is very helpful.

#81 - WR Jamall Brown - Not in the plans.  The post-spring depth chart had him behind walk-on Ryan Santoro.

#82 - WR David Eldridge - Likely to play as a true freshman.  Not real likely to be the star wide receiver or even the #2 complement, but he'll play and probably catch 8-10 passes this year.

#85 - WR Keeon Johnson - Ends up as third wide receiver option behind Severin and Levrone, but at risk of seeing his role reduced when Thorpe returns.

#86 - TE Charlie Hopkins - Biggest role of any of UVA's transfers.  He'll be a workhorse tight end, and should catch about 35 passes and be a huge part of the run-blocking game.

#87 - TE Richard Burney - Redshirt.

#89 - TE Rob Burns - Burns is so darn tall - and a senior besides - that I think somewhere along the line he'll catch a feel-good touchdown pass, which will be fun to watch.  But his role will be limited at best since Hopkins is going to take most of the TE snaps and Butts is really more of a natural TE than Burns is.

Stay tuned later, even possibly soonish, for the upcoming preview of the defense.